Bangkok: An unsupervised four-year-old elephant suddenly became agitated and attacked an Australian man on the Thai resort island of Phuket.
The attack on Chan Yun, 62, from the Sydney suburb of Newington, happened as TripAdvisor, one of the world's largest travel websites, and its booking service Viator, announced it would not longer sell tickets to attractions where travellers come into contact with wild animals or endangeredspecies held in captivity.
Mr Chan's deeply distressed family issued a statement warning Australians travelling overseas about the dangers of interacting with wild animals, including young elephants.
A family friend said the untrained female elephant appeared calm as it roamed an area of Mai Khao beach on Phuket's north-west coast near five star resorts where there was no keeper, fence or warning sign.
But the elephant turned on Mr Chan, pushing him to the ground and attempting to step on him, the friend said.
Mr Chan suffered multiple rib fractures and injuries to his spine, ribs and kidney, requiring surgery.
Doctors at the intensive care unit of Bangkok International Hospital in Phuket where he is being cared for advised he needed to be transferred to Sydney by air ambulance.
Family members, who travelled to Phuket for a family wedding, face huge medical bills because his travel insurance has been rejected because of a pre-existing medical condition, the friend said.
Mr Chan was alone at the time of the attack, which is being investigated by Thai police. A taxi driver came to his aid.
TripAdvisor's new policy came after more than a year of campaigning by several animal welfare groups, such as the UK-based charity World Animal Protection, which claimed the internet giant has been profiting from selling tickets to attractions that involve wildlife abuse and cruelty.
The policy relates to elephant rides, swimming with dolphins and the petting of endangered species like tigers.
TripAdvisor also announced the creation of a wildlife tourism education website, in partnership with leading animal protection organisations, that will publish information about animal welfare issues.
Elephant rides and trekking are among the most popular attractions for tourists on Phuket where an average of 20,000 Australian tourists visit each month.
There are as many as 20 elephant camps on the island.
Across Thailand the number of elephants used in the country's tourism industry has risen 30 per cent in recent years to an estimated 2000.
A survey last year found that 37 per cent of tourists in Thailand said they wanted to ride an elephant and 25 per cent said they wanted their photograph taken with a tiger.
Some travel companies, including Australia's Intrepid, have refused to book elephant rides or treks for their customers for several years.
A video showing cruelty used to break the spirit of young elephants bound for the tourism industry was aired at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand by environmentalist Lek Chailert from the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai in northern Thailand.
"If an elephant attacks a person there is a reason – because we expect too much of them," she said.